Now that the sun has finally condescended to appear and summer has at last arrived there are a number of seasonal care issues that all horse owners need to address and which are sometimes overlooked.
It goes without saying that horses living out during the hot, dry weather must have unlimited access to fresh, clean water. Troughs with a mains water supply are best as they are less inclined to stagnate and become a harbour for mosquito larvae. They automatically refill too which saves owners a sweaty trudge from the yard with full containers. Troughs will still require regular cleaning though just as buckets etc do. When the weather becomes warmer and the water temperature rises algae will bloom inside the containers forming a thick, green slime which attracts mosquitos and the like.
Certain breeds are inclined to carry thick coats all year round and may require clipping out during the warmer months to prevent excessive sweating when ridden. Even so, many horses simply stand in the field (or stable) and sweat during hot weather. It's therefore a good idea to provide a salt lick in the field. Horses can then help themselves to replenish the salt they may have lost. The disadvantage of this is that you cannot accurately measure your horse's daily salt intake.
Unfortunately, another summer bugbear (excuse the pun!) is flies and midges. Sweet itch, caused by an allergic reaction to biting midges, has already been discussed at length in an earlier article and is best prevented by stabling horses prone to the condition during the hours of dawn and dusk when midges are most active. Ordinary flies however are a menace to every horse. There are many and varied preparations available in the tack shop, both natural and chemical, all of which are supposed to deter the pests. Some work and some simply don't and it's really a case of trial and error to find out what suits your horse best. Physical barriers are the best means of preventing irritation. Fly masks and fringes to protect the face and eyes are effective and full body cover fly sheets are also available.
A dry dusty environment can play havoc with feet. The hoof wall can become dry and brittle causing damage and cracking. This not only causes shoes to come loose quicker and more easily than usual but can also lead to infection entering the foot resulting in an abscess and lameness. Hard, uneven ground can also cause horses with poor foot conformation to become sore and unlevel. Your farrier can fit pads or may use silicone compound to protect the sole which will help avoid bruising. Regular application of hoof oil or keratin may help to keep the hoof wall pliable and treating the coronet band with a product like Cornucresine will encourage quicker growth to speed up the removal of cracks in the wall.
Horses with pink skin, especially around the delicate areas of the muzzle and eyes, can be prone to sunburn. If your horse suffers a bad case of sunburn you should first have a vet check out whether it's primary or secondary sunburn. Primary sunburn is damage to the skin due to the sun's rays. Secondary sunburn (photosensitisation) is more complicated. This can be the result of liver failure due to ragwort poisoning or the ingestion of a poisonous plant containing photoactive chemicals. These chemicals react to UV sunlight and result in cell damage to the skin. Your vet will be able to advise you on this and may suggest a liver function test to be on the safe side. He may also recommend that you have your pasture checked.
To prevent primary sunburn apply a high factor, children's sun cream and be sure to apply in regularly as it will come off during the day as he grazes. If your horse is particularly prone to being burnt it may be best to keep him in during the hottest part of the day when he's most at risk.
It's very important to make sure that your horse has access to shade and shelter in his field. There's nothing worse than seeing horses turned out on small, exposed paddocks with the sun beating down on them and no way of escaping it. Always try to exercise your horse at the coolest, most fly-free times of the day. It's worth getting up an hour earlier to ride before work when the air is at its coolest, rather than waiting till later. Road surfaces and sand and rubber arenas hold the sun's daytime heat well into the evening and indoor schools, although shady, can be like greenhouses.
Enjoy the heat wave and stay cool!
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